Sea of Stars just ruined every turn-based RPG for me — it’s an instant classic

Sea of Stars
(Image credit: Sabotage Studios)

Over 35 hours in and each moment of Sea of Stars tantalizes me, pulling me in only to break my ankles and have me crawl back to my desk to write this piece. All I want to do is play Sea of Stars.

I started watching the promotions for Sea of Stars shortly after it got funded on Kickstarter and was enamored by the dynamic combat and traversal. It almost looked too good to be true.

Well, it is — true, and good, stupidly good, so good that I can’t go back to traditional turn-based RPGs. Sea of Stars has ruined me.

Hit me, baby, one more time

Screaming exclamatives at the top of my lungs every time I miss a crucial bonus attack or block is my daily routine with Sea of Stars.

Sea of Stars

(Image credit: Sabotage Studios)

You see, every attack and skill can get a little boost if you hit the action button in sync with the animations. This could increase damage or even add an additional attack. The latter is the most crucial when you’re dealing with enemies that charge up special attacks. In order to break a special attack, you have to match your attacks to the locks that are presented above the enemy’s character model. Sometimes, you have to think outside the box to fulfill the requirements and that’s because of your low MP.

MP fuels all of your skills, and there’s not a lot to go around, so you have to be very judicious with how you spend your skills, especially in the beginning. Regular attacks will net you some MP back, but every time you take a move, the enemy gets closer to striking, bringing me to my next point.

You are the turn order. Typically, a turn-based game bounces around randomly between enemy and ally, or even goes from ally team to enemy team, but Sea of Stars does neither. In one round, you have to take three turns with different characters before previously used characters can act again. And the enemy acts based on how many turns you’ve taken. Their turn timers are clearly displayed (usually from 1 to 4), so you have to strategize around taking the least amount of damage from the least number of enemies while doing the most damage to the most enemies.

Sea of Stars

(Image credit: Sabotage Studios)

But sometimes you just have to take the hit — and that’s where you have to remain vigilant because you have an opportunity to block the attack, reducing the overall damage. Sometimes, enemies attack twice in one turn, or even attack your whole party, so it can be tricky to get off a perfect block.

Sea of Stars suggests that these bonuses aren’t crucial to the gameplay and you should be fine without them — poppycock! I’ve gotten my ass kicked so many times by this game and that’s all while trying my best to get the bonus strikes and blocks. Despite how strategic I play in battle, I’ve never felt underleveled or desired to grind, which I have a love/hate relationship with.

That’s not all for combat — there are even combos, ultimates, and a mechanic called Live Mana, which are obtained when you attack regularly, and you can use them to charge attacks and skills for more damage and an elemental charge. You can even cook meals, which act like potions or items in other RPGs. (Meal prep is the key to victory in real life and Sea of Stars).

This is all to say that I’ve never felt more engaged in a turn-based game before. Sea of Stars nails it.

Across the Sea of Stars

Trying to interpret a squawking bird that sends me around the globe on the hunt for goodies that may or may not be out of date has become a part of my nightly routine in Sea of Stars.

Sea of Stars

(Image credit: Sabotage Studios)

The core combat is amazing, but the presentation and traversal are what suck me into this world that Sabotage Studios crafted with such care. Key components include no random encounters and no transitions to separate battlefields. What you see is what you get — well, sometimes.

While limited to a top-down view, Sea of Stars takes full advantage of its multi-directional space and makes traversal as active as it can given the limitations. You can swim, climb, vault, jump, and use a number of special abilities to manipulate the world around you. And in true RPG-tradition, you can sail a ship.

Despite its linear narrative (which I love), there’s so much to explore in the areas that you traverse, whether it’s finding the right angle to see that Rainbow Conch chest or when you must return to use a new traversal ability to open a path toward untold rewards.

Sea of Stars

(Image credit: Sabotage Studios)

Naturally, there’s a mini-game that I terribly sucked at called Wheels — in line with the game’s combat, it involves a dash of luck and resource management.

Did I mention you could fish? Yeah, and it's not a terrible nightmare like a certain other game (cough-Stardew Valley-cough)

What wraps everything so neatly together is the hypnotic tunes and the bold art style. Jumping into this world feels like a fresh new experience each time.

The difference between Sea of Stars and the classics it's inspired by is a combination between the authenticity of a familiar vibe and quality of life changes that round out into a phenomenal experience.

Bottom line

Sea of Stars is inspired by beloved RPGs, but every work of art was once inspired by a classic before it became a classic itself. Sea of Stars is a gem of this era, and in a decade’s time, you’ll see it make “best games” lists across the world. You can call that my own prophecy — all because I want to share one of my favorite quotes from this game.

“Prophecies are not swayed by the attention we give them.”

It’s rare that a highly anticipated game of mine meets and exceeds my expectations. But Sabotage Studios created my favorite RPG. It did the work, and, like Thanos, it can finally rest (just kidding, make more games, please). Now that I’m done writing this, I’m going to put a few more hours into Sea of Stars. 

Rami Tabari

Rami Tabari is an Editor for Laptop Mag. He reviews every shape and form of a laptop as well as all sorts of cool tech. You can find him sitting at his desk surrounded by a hoarder's dream of laptops, and when he navigates his way out to civilization, you can catch him watching really bad anime or playing some kind of painfully difficult game. He’s the best at every game and he just doesn’t lose. That’s why you’ll occasionally catch his byline attached to the latest Souls-like challenge.